I was traveling cross-country recently with a family member who shall remain nameless. When we reached our stopover in Denver, the stewardess announced that there were a few passengers who had only a few minutes to make their connecting flight. "Could the rest of you please wait patiently and let them off first?"
A great psychological study in human nature ensued (I may have a potential PhD thesis here) as some travelers waited calmly and others pushed into the aisles. When questioned if they were rushing to make another flight, some admitted, without a trace of embarrassment, that they were not.
Witnessing this cavalier attitude, many others -- my fellow traveler included -- began crowding the aisles to leave, heedless of whether they might be leaving those other passengers stranded.
Although I did not, as the aforementioned family member said, "wait on the plane until it was just her and the passengers requiring wheelchairs," I did wait until the stewardess announced that those travelers in a hurry had indeed left.
Why did I wait? Mostly because I'm a rules-bound kinda gal and it causes me more psychic pain to break rules than to obey them. Partly because my mother raised me to be polite. And thirdly because I'm afraid.
I'm afraid of becoming indifferent to the needs of others.
I'm afraid that if I allow myself to let my guard down and put my self-interest first, I will become indifferent to the needs of others. Our veneer of civilization is not that deep. Many people, especially in times of danger, revert to the most basic of instincts "each man for himself" and the results are not pretty. Nowadays, even without real danger, that instinct frequently prevails. I don't want to take a chance.
But aren't there crimes worse than indifference? Maybe so, yet when the Almighty destroyed the world with the famous flood at the time of Noah, it wasn't because of all the sexual immorality (although that didn't help) but rather, the Torah teaches, because of the crime of robbery.
At first glance, this seems surprising. Murder was also rampant. What is unique about robbery is the complete indifference shown to others. Murder may be a crime of passion; robbery is totally dispassionate. The actual owner of the property is irrelevant. All that counts are my desires. It is as if other people don't really exist.
I'm afraid of becoming like that. It's not such a crazy fear. I see people behaving like that all the time -- the people who cut lines or break into traffic.
Every morning when I drive my kids to school I watch one mother block traffic in four directions so she can let her children off on the corner and avoid the carpool line. Not only is she violating the oft-repeated school rules (you understand why they need to be oft repeated!) but she is totally ignoring the needs of all the drivers around her. And her kids are also learning a lesson...
Everyone can think of their own examples. Indifference is a serious mistake. We are taught that acts of kindness are one of the essential pillars of our existence. It's too easy to be caught napping, to focus on ourselves and our families and be oblivious to the needs of others. They aren't quite real to us.
It doesn't take much to push us into "me first" mode and behave with indifference. So I'll stay on that plane a little longer. I pointed out to my accompanying relative that since they had to wait for me anyway, they accomplished nothing by their hasty deplaning. (They didn't quite smile in response.) And I kept my fear of indifference at bay for one more day...